NEW YORK – Maybe it’s the urban dwelling of the future: studio apartments measuring no more than 300 square feet.
New York City planners believe the tiny units could be the answer to a growing population of singles and two-person households. And in a nation that’s becoming increasingly populous and increasingly urbanized – and where people more frequently are a family of one – such downsizing may not stop here.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday invited developers to propose ways to turn a Manhattan lot into an apartment building filled mostly with what officials are calling micro-units – dwellings complete with a bathroom, built-in kitchenette and enough space for a careful planner to use a fold-out bed as both sleeping space and living room.
If the pilot program is successful, officials could ultimately overturn a requirement that new apartments here be at least 400 square feet.
City planners envision a future in which the young, the cash-poor and empty nesters flock to such small dwellings – each not much bigger than a dorm room. In a pricey real estate market where about one-third of renter households spend more than half their income on rent, it could make housing more affordable.
Manhattan is the U.S. capital of solo living, with 46.3 percent of households consisting of one person, according to the 2010 census.
City officials estimate that 76 percent of residents on the island live alone or with one other person – and such households are growing faster around the city than any other type of living situation. Officials attribute the trend in part to young professionals delaying both marriage and childbearing.
The size of New York City apartments has been lampooned on television, with at least one sitcom showing characters living – literally – in a closet. Some New Yorkers, desperate for storage space and uninterested in the finer points of homemaking, turn their ovens into storage for clothes or other items.
Especially alone, paying New York City rents can be a challenge – and officials said they hoped smaller apartments would help ease the financial burden on residents facing average market-rate rents of $2,000 per month for a studio and $2,700 per month for a one-bedroom. Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew Wambua said he expected the micro-units would rent for significantly less.
In recent years, small homes have been celebrated by design aficionados who argue that minimal space, less clutter and simpler living is both financially and spiritually freeing, but the idea of towers of tiny units raises the specter of an era in which poor residents were crammed into unsafe tenements where they could afford the rent.
City officials argued this proposal was utterly different from such wholesale warehousing of the poor.
The tenement problem was big families in very small (spaces), Bloomberg said. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about one or two people who want something they can afford, and they don’t entertain or need big space.